A story suitable for over 16 years old readers
This is only a sample chapter of one of my new projects. If you want to read more you can do it by supporting me on Patreon
“Meri! Meri! Come on, hurry up! The festival is tomorrow and we still have millions of things to prepare!”
The girl let go of the roller on the worktop with certain weariness, pulled a lock of rebellious hair away from her face with a short blow, and looked at what was in front of her, her arms in jugs – Seven trays full of makidor fritters with wild herb dressing, no more, no less. Meri snorted and held back the urge to stretch her back just in time; for at that moment her loving yet severe mother appeared on the kitchen steps. Her eyes then turned to the seven trays, without her lips being able to suppress a poorly concealed smile of pride.
“Well, my dear. You’ve outdone yourself today, I have to admit. Come on, help me bake them for lunch. We can’t keep the abbot waiting…”
Meri dissimulated another slight snort, without answering and limiting herself to go away a few meters to wash her hands in an icy basin and take the opportunity to pick up again the thick blonde hair in a practical bowl. Of course, she had been kneading the doughnuts there all morning. What did her mother expect?
Meri had nothing to be surprised about. Every year for the beginning of the Metal Time, since she remembered, her mother and she had been up to work in the kitchens of the temple of Darak, located in the foothills of the Blacksmiths Mountains, about sixty kilometers from the border with Vidio. For all Alastir it was the moment to show off, to welcome their two months of regency in the calendar and to welcome a new year. On the other side of the windows, the frost still covered the edges of the glass and the snow still covered the roads between the houses of the neighboring village, situated a few meters further down the hillside.
Winter will give little truce this time, thought the industrious girl, without stopping.
The New Year’s Festival and the Metal Regency was an event in which everyone enjoyed and participated – everyone, except the temple servitude and the stately homes, of course.
“Hopefully, we’ll have an option tomorrow night to see the closing festivities,” Meri longed for her inner self as she helped his mother put the first trays into the oven. That was the first day of celebration in the temple, with a distinguished lunch in which Abbot Meron invited the most reputable nobles of the region to visit the temple and, of course, make a few donations if possible. Meri snorted while following her mother’s orders and then, while the first doughnuts gilded on the fire, she took the game from the cold-pantry and began to wash them and season them for the banquet.
It was then that a clatter of hoofs was heard in the courtyard beyond the window, freezing the two women in place before they exchanged an alarmed gaze. It couldn’t be that they were already there. The doughnuts would take almost an hour to bake and another half to cool enough to be bitten. Was it the time and hadn’t they noticed?
“You stay here,” her mother ordered Meri in a tone that admitted no argument before she could almost lift a finger or open her mouth. “I’m going to look around and see what’s going on. You get on with it.”
The young woman watched her go, a bit grim but not replying, as she continued her work obediently and began to clean the meat of fat and unpleasant debris for the distinguished guests. At least, until her mother came back two minutes later with a pale face and a bit of a mishap. Meri immediately released the food and ran towards her, worried.
“Mother, is everything all right? What’s going on?”
The woman, who had not entered beyond the threshold of the kitchen door, seemed to react then and, to Meri’s surprise, pushed her slightly to the bottom of the kitchen and said, in a tone that Meri had never heard her use but that made her hair stand on end:
“Compose yourself. Abbot Meron wants you to come up.”
The girl opened her eyes wide, surprised and noticing a strange shiver of alarm coming down her back.
“Me…?” she asked, cautiously, while hundreds of other questions cluttered her galloping mind. But when she saw that her mother did not answer, she added, cautiously. “Has anything happened? Have I done…?”
“That doesn’t matter now,” her mother cut her off with some rudeness, to Meri’s surprise. “Just do as you’re told, okay? Then we’ll see what happens…”
Such was the seriousness of her tone that Meri, despite the lack of detail, dared not reply. With a racing heart, she hastened into her quarters next to the kitchen, exchanged her apron and tunic for a clean, nondescript outfit in less than a minute, washed the leftover flour from her face and ran to the kitchen door like a soul carried by the devil. No one disobeyed a direct order from Abbot Meron in his temple. The question was…
Why did he call her?
As Meri emerged from the courtyard in the winter cold, she was greeted by a small gust of air that almost made her stagger backwards and fall back down the steps to the kitchen. On the outside, a thin layer of frost covered the edge of the paving, next to the coated steel columns surrounding the servants’ courtyard. A few meters further on, the hallway leading to the reception courtyard was opened. Refraining the shivering as much as she could, since not even the hot metal ducts that heated the place, running inside the walls, were able to remedy the cold altogether, Meri rushed there. The atmosphere inside the dark hallway was a warm blessing compared to the cold outside, but she still had to reach the other courtyard and get out again. The young maid cursed to herself as she advanced toward the light. What did Meron want of her on a day like that? What had she done?
Dark reflections accompanied her until she reached the threshold of the reception courtyard of Darak’s temple: a large pentagonal enclosure surrounded by elegant columns of bronze and chromed steel that had nothing to do with the modest structures she had just left behind. To the left of it, watching from Meri’s perspective, another short corridor opened up to the training classrooms and the stables, which matched almost with the servants’ lodgings that the young woman had left behind her. A little beyond the aforementioned corridor, a modest entrance led to the meditation rooms, while on the right, two passages led respectively to the rooms of Abbot Meron and his apprentices.
As her mother and she had sensed, the retinue of guests had already arrived. There were about ten of them, all dressed in grey and ochre, as corresponded to the Doroma of Metal. Almost all of them were men, except for three more feminine figures erect among them that stood out like spotlights in the night. Two of them had their heads uncovered, but not the third, the smallest, which remained somewhat apart from the group and kept its identity hidden by the hood. Abbot Meron was already talking to some of the newcomers and the stable boys, many of them apprentices from lower social classes, were taking the docile nigrum to the stables – Meri suppressed a chill, as usual when she saw them up close.
The adult specimens were over a meter and a half tall to the back, with leathery, dark skin, four strong legs covered with hair and a head as big and hard as a rock. Two small but threatening side horns stood out from the lower lips. Only when she saw that the animals were a prudent distance away, Meri dared to step out of the shadows and into the dim light of the courtyard, advancing toward the retinue in a submissive attitude.
Abbot Meron was the first to notice it and showed one of his strange smiles of affability that he reserved for the receptions, and his nearest and dearest.
“Ah, Meri! I’m glad you’re here now,” Meron seemed happy as she approached the retinue, head partially bowed in a respectful attitude. “Alkor! Come here, boy. Where is your sister?”
When Meri heard that name, she jumped and barely dared to look at the alluded sideways, ignoring the rest of the sentence completely. Indeed, Alkor was among the members of the group, although Meri had not been able to see him until now. The young man, with his black hair, always combed back, was helping to dismantle the hooded figure that Meri had spotted from afar, just as the abbot claimed his attention. When Alkor noticed the cooker’s daughter, he frowned; but to her relief, he did not comment – not this time. The young woman had to disguise her clenching fists among the folds of her skirt when the young Metal master reached her height.
Almost since they had known each other, barely as children, Alkor had never looked at her twice with sympathy – simply because she was a simple waitress who had no Metal skills. He and many others were surprised that she had not been sent to Kulia when she was born, although it were associated, one with the fact that her mother did not have the Gift either, and second that Meron had always been a bleeding-heart one. However, Alkor was the only one who dared to question the girl if they crossed the aisles of the temple. For Alkor, Meri had always been only a hindrance, apart from an annoying child that only ran around the temple in her spare time and hence bothered his studies. Curiously, no other apprentice had ever had a problem with her in that regard, but Alkor seemed to have developed a special aversion to Meri since he first saw her. Except… That time.
Meri shook her head, clenching her teeth too. She doubted that Alkor remembered that.
If he remembered, it will probably be very different, she thought bitterly.
“Abbot Meron… Can we talk privately for a moment?” Alkor asked, clearly irritated.
Out of the corner of her eye, Meri watched with some satisfaction as the temple leader slowly shook his head.
“No, Alkor. The decision has been made,” he whispered, tense. “And that’s it.”
The young master snorted through his nose but did not reply. The last thing he could think of was to make a scene in front of the nobles of the area.
“Abbot Meron, is there somewhere we can leave our cloaks?”
Then another of the guests asked in a loud voice, while other apprentices were already coming to take care of all their noble needs and lead them to the shelter of the porches of the courtyard. Lord Manor, if Meri’s memory of other years did not fail her. The maid was surprised to find that he seemed to have aged all of a sudden in the last fourteen months and wondered inside why, although she kept her composure completely and hee thoughts are hidden.
“I have heard it said that the smell of roasted makidor reached the house at the foot of the hill”, continued Lord Manor.
Next to Meri, the abbot laughed eagerly – to the young woman, it always seemed as if a thunder resounded from inside his bulging belly.
“My dear Manor, given the years since you have been coming to this celebration, I am surprised that you are still guided by rumours about something that is already tradition….”- at that moment, Meron’s mood vanished as he turned again to Alkor, who waited tense beside him and apparently wanted to say something more.- “We are not going to discuss this again, Alkor” -then, Meron’s voice and his face changed again in a second when he saw the figure approaching from the back of the young Doroma-. “Ah! Dear Miku, welcome to Darak’s temple. I hope that your stay here will be very pleasant”-immediately, Meron stood sideways to Meri and she unwittingly stood in front of the hooded figure she had peered at from afar. And she barely managed to bow politely when Miku lowered his hood and two eyes as blue as the sky faced her from a round, smooth face surrounded by dark hair that was delicately gathered. “Meet Meri, who will be your maid during your stay here,”-Meri heard Alkor snort, but as if she were far away instead of by his side. “Whatever you need, please ask her”.
Meri, recovered from the surprise of seeing that precious teenager, bowed again, respectful and pronounced:
“I am at your service, my lady.”
Miku then smiled with perfect teeth, bright eyes, nodded slightly and replied:
“The pleasure is mine, Meri. I’m sure we’ll get along very well.”